Penguins Notebook: Neal, Niskanen have trouble traveling to Pittsburgh
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Penguins general manager Ray Shero and his staff had left winger James Neal on their wish list for a long time.
Longer than it took Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen to get here after the Penguins acquired them Monday from Dallas for defenseman Alex Goligoski. Barely.
Those two were scheduled to arrive Monday night, but their flight from Dallas was diverted to Newark, N.J., where they spent the night.
"Hopefully, they didn't think they got traded to the [New Jersey] Devils," coach Dan Bylsma said, smiling.
At that point, Plan B kicked in, and Neal and Niskanen got seats on a flight that was supposed to get them to town in time for practice Tuesday. That flight was delayed, so they will make their Penguins debut without benefit of a single full workout when San Jose visits Consol Energy Center at 7:38 tonight.
"I would have liked to get them on the ice," Bylsma said. "And I think they would have liked to get on the ice with the guys and see our practice."
And even though that didn't work out, it doesn't necessarily mean Neal and Niskanen will be eased in by their new club.
Bylsma said Neal will work alongside Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy on the Penguins' de facto No. 1 line, while Niskanen is penciled in to man the point opposite Kris Letang on the top power-play unit.
"They'll be thrown into the fire with San Jose," Bylsma said.
The Penguins gave up a skilled young defenseman to add Neal to their depth chart, but Chris Conner gave up the sweater off his back.
Conner, who played with Neal in the Dallas organization, had been wearing No. 18 here, but is switching to No. 16 so that Neal can have the number he wore with the Stars.
And if Neal plays the way Conner remembers, the Penguins figure to be pretty satisfied with the trade.
"He's a big body," Conner said. "He uses it well. He goes to the net and he's got a real scoring touch, too. I think he'll really help us out.
"He plays with speed. He loves getting in there and throwing his weight in there."
Although Neal's goal-scoring ability might be the most attractive part of his game -- especially now, given the Penguins' offensive struggles in recent weeks -- Conner pointed out that he doesn't shy away from physical play, and isn't reluctant to fight, when necessary.
"If the situation calls for it, he won't hesitate at all," he said. "That's a really good asset he has, too. Especially when he's throwing his body around. He's not afraid to do any of that."
Defenseman Paul Martin will sit out his second consecutive game tonight because of an unspecified injury sustained when he was knocked into the boards from behind by Chicago forward Patrick Sharp in the Penguins' 3-2 shootout loss Sunday at the United Center.
Although that appeared to be a blatant infraction, Sharp was neither penalized at the time nor subjected to supplemental discipline by the league after the fact.
That did not sit particularly well with some of the Penguins, since Matt Cooke -- whose reputation for such things clearly suffers by comparison to that of Sharp -- had just completed a four-game suspension for a hit from behind on Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin.
"[Sharp's] hit, I thought, was clearly a push to the back of Paul, in a fairly dangerous spot," Bylsma said. "Luckily for Paul, I think if he had been a little closer to the boards, it could have been worse. He was able to somewhat protect himself a little bit. I thought it was a dangerous hit. It was off to our left, so I didn't have a great picture of it in-game. But I was anticipating a penalty call on that play for sure and didn't get it."
The Penguins returned left winger Ryan Craig and defenseman Brian Strait to their team in Wilkes-Barre. ... Forwards Dustin Jeffrey and Mark Letestu have gotten clearance to take part in full practices, beginning today, but Bylsma said left winger Chris Kunitz does not.
First Published February 23, 2011 12:00 am